Though the omicron variant has yet to be identified in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci laid out steps Americans can take to combat the newly identified strain.
Fauci said Tuesday that you should follow these steps to fight the variant: get vaccinated, get boosted, use masks, avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces (choose outdoor settings rather than indoor), keep your distance from others, wash your hands, and test and isolate if appropriate.
During a White House COVID-19 Response team briefing, Fauci also outlined what we know and don’t yet know about the variant.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) explained that the mutational profile of the omicron variant is “very different” from other coronavirus strains of interest and concern.
“And although some mutations are also found in delta, this is not delta. It’s something different. And these mutations have been associated with increased transmissibility and immune evasion,” said Fauci.
The public health figure said the omicron variant may lead to increased transmission compared to the original virus first identified in China, but it’s difficult to infer now if it’s more transmissible than delta.
As for vaccine effectiveness on the omicron variant, Fauci said it’s possible that there may be significant reductions in neutralizing titers, and partial “immune escape” may occur, but vaccines likely will still protect against severe disease.
Fauci added that preliminary information from South Africa suggests that there are no unusual symptoms associated with the omicron variant, and that severity estimates are difficult given the small number of cases so far.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also spoke at the briefing and said the U.S. is actively screening for the omicron variant in the U.S.
“Right now, there is no evidence of omicron in the U.S. The delta variant remains the dominate circulating strain, representing 99.9% of all sequences sampled,” said the CDC director.
Walensky said when the omicron variant makes its way to the country, she’s confident we have the resources to combat it.
“To be crystal clear, we have far more tools to fight the variant today than we had at this time last year. Today, we have increased our protection through vaccination for everyone 5 years and up, and we have booster doses for all adults to optimize that vaccine protection,” said Walensky.
The public health officials are continuing to urge Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and get booster shots if they’re eligible. All adults are now eligible for a booster if they were vaccinated six months ago or more with Pfizer or Moderna, or two months ago or more with Johnson & Johnson.
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The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified the omicron strain as a “variant of concern.” It was first identified by researchers in South Africa. Since then, it has appeared as far apart as Hong Kong, Australia, Portugal, and Canada.